It didn't take long to discover that there were lots of different opinions. One source would emphasize the importance of avoiding all fats and say you should stay away from fatty foods like avocados at all cost. Another source listed avocados as one of the top 5 foods to eat while you are pregnant. With so many different, and sometimes contradictory ideas and theorys out there, how could I know what was really true and best for me and my family?
Sifting Through Fad Diets
If you think a diet means a long list of thou shalt and thou shalt not, you probably think of diets as a horrible think to be feared and endured. But if what you eat is just your way of life, it is different. I think if your goal is to lose weight, there are probably lots of diets that can help you obtain that. But if your goal is to gain nutrition and be healthy long term, you need a different approach. While I'm still learning a lot, I've come to a few conclusions.
A Healthy Diet Does NOT Involve Cutting Out Entire Food Groups
Obviously, if you are allergic or have a bad reaction to something, you should not eat it. But cutting out all fruits, all veggies, all fats, all grains, all meat, or anything else just won't give you what you need in the long term. I think there are probably a lot of benefits to eating more or less of particular things, or even to cutting something out of your diet for a while to see how your body reacts. But permanently? Not for me and my family.
A Healthy Diet Does NOT Include Refined or Processed Foods (or trusting labels)
The less "real" something is, the less I want to eat it. Often advertisers use buzz words in their marketing. There is probably a good chance that if you see it on a commercial, it is misleading. We get so caught up in the calorie count, fat content, sugar and sodium that we believe the label. You can get soy sauce lite with 450 mg of sodium per tablespoon. That may or may not be less than other brands of soy sauce. Sugar free often means that it is sweetened with something far worse than sugar.
Packaged food is a huge industry. The manufactures take the time to make sure every bite has the perfect flavor and texture so you can't put it down. The science behind all of this is quite impressive really, and a bit scary. We are so caught up in the sensation of eating that we don't care about what it is doing to our bodies. Salt and sugar taste good, but they are addicting. We need nutrition, not just a pleasurable sensation when we eat.
Refined sugars, flours and other things are often processed so much that any health benefits that may have existed have been taken out and we are left with tasty, easy to work with materials that don't give us the nutrients we need.
The healthy versions of packaged foods may (or may not) be better than their counterparts, but they often still lack all the things we really need. In my experience, real, healthy food doesn't come from a package (or if it does, it loses some of its quality and cost a lot more).
A Healthy Diet Is NOT a One Size Fits All Approach
Very, very few things in life are effective for one size fits all. Principles can apply to everyone, but each person needs to find the application that works best for them. What I need and what works in my situation will be different than what someone else needs.
My dream is to have a home with space for a garden, a few goats, chickens and maybe some bees. I would rather spend time and energy to have the food I want without being dependent on anyone else. In the meantime, I'm in a basement apartment and I hope to stock up on lots of local produce this summer and fall and use my pressure canner so we can enjoy it the rest of the year.
I understand the benefits of organic food, but I'm not so sold on it that I'm ready to fork out the extra money if it isn't necessary. I recognize the value of eating lots of fresh produce, but at the moment, I don't mind it not being organic, especially for the price difference. I also recognize that the process to become certified organic is expensive and still has loopholes.
There are lots of things we are trying in our family that work well for our situation, but wouldn't work well for others (or even ourselves in a different situation). The point is to learn a lot, then do the best you can with the resources and abilities you have, and don't beat yourself up about what you can't do (I can't keep a dairy goat in a one bedroom basement apartment, but somehow we survive ;).
A Healthy Diet IS Nutrient Dense
Rather than worrying about county calories, we should be thinking about nutrients. I learned a lot from this food movie (it is on Netflix). Like how we are eating more than ever before, but starving ourselves at the same time. The Standard American Diet lacks the nutrients necessary for us to have a healthy lifestyle. Balance and nutrition are more important than counting calories, fat content and so many other things we get caught up with.
Listen To Your Body
This is a concept that I hear all the time, but it is easier said than done. When I was pregnant, it was really easy to listen to my body because my body was very opinionated. If I ate something I shouldn't, it would come right back up. It was frustrating, but the instant feedback made it easy to figure out. Now things are a little more subtle, but as we have cut out most processed foods, I notice a big difference when we do have food that varies from the norm.
Cravings (once you get past the sugar/salt addiction) are often the body's way of telling you it needs something. If we take care of our body and treat it right, we will get better at listening and understanding what we need. If I take care of my body, it will take care of me. If I pay attention and know how to listen, I can discern what to do and stay healthier (like recognizing whether to keep working through a sickness or take time to rest to prevent it from getting worse).
I still have a lot to learn in this area, but one thing I'm learning is that as I take better care of my body, I am also better off spiritually because my body isn't getting in the way so much. It is great to be working with my body, rather than fighting against it.
Our Family's Choices
I think all important family decisions, whether it be having children, parenting styles, what to eat, or where to live are between the family (mainly the parents) and God. It really doesn't matter what the neighbors, associations, businesses, churches, extended family, doctors or science have to say about it. Every family is unique and has unique and individual needs that can best be determined by prayerful consideration of the family involved.
That being said, many people are searching for the answers to their concerns, and those solutions are often found by observing others. For that reason, I'm sharing what our family is choosing for our diet. It isn't the only right way, and probably not all the same choices we will be making years from now. But what we put in our body makes a big impact on our quality of life, and as we have been applying these ideas, it has been a great experience for our family.
Our family isn't about to give up grains. I know it is really popular right now, and lots of people really do benefit from it. Maybe it is just because I am stubborn and like my oatmeal and homemade bread too much to give it up, not to mention I'm excited about new stuff I'm trying with it. But for me the theory doesn't quite work. If the goal is to eat more like our ancestors, are we choosing the right ones to mimic? I would rather follow the traditions of bread baking than nomads.
Another thing we aren't giving up is sugar. For one thing, a good friend of mine pointed out the importance of having sugar and sweet things in food storage. She said you can manage to eat just about anything when you know you have dessert to look forward to, but when the sugar runs out, life is much more dismal. Especially for the kids. After learning about the role of sugar in our diet, we aren't going to cut it out. However, we are doing our best to avoid refined white sugar and especially corn syrup. We are definitely eating a lot less sugar than we used to. Part of this is because we are cutting out most processed foods, and they always manage to sneak sugar in there. We also eat less sugar because alternatives to refined sugar tend to cost a lot more. We have xylitol for our toothpaste, rapadura for our everyday sugar needs, and honey and maple syrup as well. I find that honey and maple syrup are harder to work with and stickier than the rapadura, so I don't use them as often as I could (they cost more too). I do like a big scoop of honey on my oatmeal in the morning, or in the granola when I make it.
We aren't giving up fat either, but we are changing the fats we use. We've never been a fan of margarine, so no need for change there and we haven't ever been into the "low fat" fad anyways. We love butter and use it often. I'm trying to move away from vegetable oils, and we already use a lot of olive oil (it isn't very good for cooking though. Low smoke point. We originally got some coconut oil when we found out it was an ingredient for homemade magic shell (just melt chocolate and coconut oil together and pour on ice cream!) and it wasn't long before I was learning about lots of other wonderful things you can do with coconut oil. Now I use it frequently in food as well as part of toothpaste, lotion, lip balm, diaper cream, hair stuff and more!
We still eat meat, but tend toward a more vegetarian diet most of the time since we can get protein and nutrition from other places (like beans) and it is a lot cheaper. We have a neighbor with chickens and get fresh eggs there.
I still have a lot to learn when it comes to spices and herbs, but we recently got a spice grinder (re-purposed coffee maker) and I think that expanding my knowledge of flavoring things, not to mention using fresher herbs and spices will make meals much more interesting. We already have a salt and pepper grinder and are transitioning to Real Salt. I just finished off the last of the cheap white stuff in some salt dough (also a good way to use up cheap white flour).
Our water here is so chlorinated you can smell it. It is bad enough that I will quickly get dehydrated rather than drink it, so we invested in a Brita filter. We recently upgraded (which will save us a lot of money in the long term) to a Berkey. Besides filling up every few days instead of constantly, this water filter will be able to filter anything from swamp water to pool water in an emergency, and we can get attachments that filter fluoride if we move to an area with fluoridated water.
I really like having control over what we eat, so we are trying to phase out canned food from the store and replacing it with local food canned at home. We make pasta from scratch because I know exactly what is in it and even though it may take a little longer to prep, it isn't hard and I don't need to constantly replenish our pasta supply because we are using wheat we already have. We also enjoy lots of fresh smoothies in our vitamix.
Simple Vs. Easy
We try to eat and live fairly simply. But that often involves a lot more work. The ingredients list on any of our meals would look very simple and easy to understand, but that doesn't mean it was easy to prepare. Making bread from scratch is a long standing, simple practice, but it is much easier to buy a sliced loaf at the store.
I'm learning that in this fast paced world, we are used to being busy and having everything convenient. It isn't that I never indulge in modern conveniences or do things the easy way. But I'm finding more and more that I would rather take a little bit more time and effort to do things myself so it is more perfectly suited to my needs and wants than to always take the easy way out. Besides, if I opt to be healthy most of the time, I don't need to worry so much about if my body can recover when I enjoy a not so healthy option or go for the quick, easy and convenient method instead of the slow, laborious healthy one.
Another advantage of getting back to basics is that I learn so much more. And if I am learning, that means I will be better prepared to teach it to my family. Because in the end, the most worthwhile and important things aren't easy or convenient. They take effort, patience, and perseverance. Besides, trying new things and not being certain of cookie cutter perfection every time adds a spirit of adventure and spice to life!